Known as “The Pearl of the West,” Guadalajara is one of Mexico’s most beautiful cities. It is the capital of the state of Jalisco, home to some of the country’s most emblematic cultural traditions, such as tequila and mariachi music. With nearly two million inhabitants, Guadalajara is one of Mexico’s most important cultural, industrial and economic centres.

The city was founded in 1542 and from relatively humble beginnings, its history has been one of rapid development. It is now the third-most populous city in the country and it plays a key role in all areas of modern Mexican society. The Tapatios, as Guadalajarans are known in their native language, enjoy a rich and varied cultural life, and the city centre is a captivating blend of indigenous, colonial and modern architectural styles. They are also known for their culinary inventiveness, which has won them a well-earned reputation throughout the country, and their signature dishes include tortas ahogadas, a type of meat sandwich served in a spicy chilli sauce, and the meat stew, birria.

In terms of tourist attractions, Guadalajara is arguably the equal of any city in Mexico, or indeed, the world. The focal point of the delightful and historic city centre is the cathedral, which dates from the 16th century. For art lovers, the Hospicio Cabanas is one of the country’s most important galleries, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to many of of the key works of one of Mexico’s greatest 20th century artists, Jose Clemente Orozco. In 2011, Guadalajara will also be the host city of the Panamerican Games.

In keeping with its status in other areas of Mexican life, Guadalajara is also one of the hotbeds of football in Mexico. Its most successful club, Chivas Guadalajara, is the country’s most popular, owing in part to its tradition of fielding exclusively Mexican-born players. Los Rojiblancos, so-called because of their red-and-white strip, have just moved to the impressive new Estadio Omnilife, and the stadium will be used during the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011.

Chivas’ city rivals Atlas is another club with a rich tradition of success. It is one of the great breeding grounds of Mexican football and over the years it has unearthed and developed players such as Rafael Marquez and Andres Guardado, who have gone on to star for the national team. Los Rojinegros play at the Estadio Jalisco, which was used on the two occasions that Mexico hosted the FIFA World Cup™ finals, in 1970 and 1986.